Body image after stoma surgery
Having stoma surgery is life changing for all of us. It can both save lives and improve quality of life for those of us who have had this carried out. Once you have grappled with that mentally and physically, then you may have other questions running through your head.
Is having a stoma a taboo subject? Will people find it disgusting? Will I lead a normal life? How will I cope with a stoma?
Once you have conquered, or at least reasoned with, the answers through in your head, the next thing to contend with is body image.
Should having a stoma affect the way we look at our bodies? Will having a stoma make us any less attractive?
I, for one, have struggled with the above questions and even though I am in a committed relationship with a partner that makes me feel loved and pretty much worships the ground I walk on, it is still a question that keeps me awake at night. This is probably my own neurosis, but it is still something I think about.
I have had two stomas in the last nine years. The first one saved my life, but it also left me with a pretty epic open wound and an incisional hernia, leaving my body image at an all time low. Think leggings, long tops and granny pants from M&S. I did not feel attractive and for those three years, I felt alone and unattractive. The second ileostomy surgery was daunting as my relationship was relatively new. That ileostomy dramatically improved my quality of life. Yes, it was going to be permanent, but I had 6 months to wrap my head around that and I started checking out other ostomates to see how it would impact my body image. I grabbed that gift and turned things around.
What is body Image?
Body image is such a fickle thing. The tabloids, magazines and online sites pose unrealistic expectations of what we are supposedly meant to look like. Especially when all the photos are damn near perfect without a fault to pick at. We all look at that and then look at ourselves and find fault everywhere we look. We all want to achieve that level of perfection, but we don’t have Photoshop or digital editing to hand. These photos are designed to sell products to the masses.
Anyone can change a body position to post it in a more favourable light. I myself, do not use filters and post as myself.
What if I told you that for all of us there is always a person that finds you perfect in their eyes? What if I was to tell you that you can embrace your life and to hell with the perfection brigade?
Having imperfections makes us human. Imperfections are quirky, cute, weird, lovable and above all else, make you who you are.
Having a stoma should not define you. Yes, we may have different toilet habits, but for most of us that bag attached to your tummy has provided us with a new lease of life we may not have had if it wasn’t for that bag!
What does body image mean to me?
Body image for me, is about loving myself and being confident with what I have. Yes I have scars but they tell a story of my survival. I have stretch marks and years on and off steroids, numerous surgeries and plastic surgery to close an open wound made them more prominent. Do you know what? It isn’t the stoma that gives me body issues. Ironically, it is my weight that bugs me more than anything and I am on a journey with weight loss and an ileostomy to shed my neurosis of weight-related body image.
My favourite quote has to be a Bridget Jones quote. To be fair, I am pretty much my own version of Bridget:
“You are perfect just the way you are”
Loving yourself comes with time. To accept the stoma is to accept yourself, warts and all. I will be honest, others struggle with body image. Acceptance comes with time.
Should you change what you wear after surgery?
My answer to that one is NO!! My Instagram feed is full of like-minded ostomates that dress in whatever they feel like.
I wear anything I want to. Having a stoma doesn’t mean I can’t dress the way I used to. I still wear bikinis, bodycon dresses and everyday clothing.
Many thanks for reading,
This blog post is intended to give advice to ostomates. The information given is based on Louise’s personal experience and should not be taken as clinical advice. Each ostomates needs are unique to them and their stoma care routine. Please consult with your Stoma Care Nurse before undertaking any changes to your stoma care routine.